Yesterday we handed out the 15 Least Valuable Players in the American League. Now it’s the Senior Circuit’s turn.
As a reminder, this isn’t tracking the worst players in the National League, rather the players with the (arbitrary) least value for their respective clubs.
Atlanta Braves, Nick Markakis: Why pick Markakis, who’s never played an official game for the Braves, over Melvin Upton Jr.? Upton makes more money ($16.25 million per vs. $11 million) and in 267 games with Atlanta managed to hit 21 homers with 324 strikeouts. For one, the Braves knew they’re stuck with Upton, yet decided to overhaul their team with an eye on moving to their new stadium in 2017. Signing a veteran, league-average player like Markakis with the team not expected to contend doesn’t make much sense.
Markakis isn’t a “bad” player by definition but a 31-year-old outfielder isn’t quite what the Braves need at the moment. If you’re going to trade Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis, then let Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen walk, why sign Markakis to a four-year deal? That’s a lot for “veteran leadership” and intangibles for a team projected in the low 70s for wins. Oh right, Markakis also underwent neck surgery right around the time he signed the contract and remains salty about his exit from Birdland. (Last year: Dan Uggla)
Miami Marlins, Dan Haren: The 34-year-old vet whined after being dealt away from SoCal by the Dodgers, but decided he’d like to make $10 million in 2015 and reported to Marlins camp. Miami doesn’t really have any outrageously bad contracts, pending Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million deal that actually only pays out $15.5 million the next two seasons. (Last year: Jeff Baker)
New York Mets, Bobby Bonilla: Reminder, the Mets owe Bonilla $1+ million every year through 2035 after deciding not to buy out the final year of his contract in 2000 worth $5.9 million. Also worth remembering that when Bonilla signed a five-year, $29 million deal with the Mets in 1991 it was the richest in baseball history at the time. (Last year: Bobby Bonilla.) (Next year: Bobby Bonilla.)
Philadelphia Phillies, Ryan Howard: Ryan Howard’s home run totals his first first six full seasons in the league, starting in 2006 are: 58, 47, 48, 45, 31, 33. Those aren’t good numbers, they’re Hall of Fame level numbers. Then he tore his Achilles in the 2011 NLDS and was never the same post-injury, which coincided with his five-year, $125 million deal that runs through 2016 (That’s 25,000,000 $5 foot-long subs from Subway, sans sales tax).
On the surface 2014 didn’t look terrible for Howard — he hit 23 homers with 95 RBIs — but still slugged under .400 and struck out 190 times, playing porous infield defense. Good news for the Phillies? Come 2017 Howard is off the books and right now the only commitments are for Cole Hamels, who’ll likely be traded long before that. (Last year: Ryan Howard)
Washington Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman: Zimmerman is coming off an injury-plagued season where he only played 61 games, but it was the worst of his career and third straight where his production declined. Now he’s moved across the diamond from third to first and is owed $74 million through 2019. That’s not terrible money in today’s baseball economic climate, but it’s a lot for a player whose whose never cracked .900 in OPS (to be fair he finished at .899 in 2010).
Washington doesn’t appear like it cares about burning through money, but Zimmerman’s contract might make retaining Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, let alone Ian Desmond, much more difficult. (Last year: Rafael Soriano)
Chicago Cubs, Edwin Jackson: Pop quiz: after Jon Lester who is the highest-paid Cub this season? Spoiler: it’s Edwin Jackson, which I’d hope you’d be able to guess seeing his name is written in bold type at the start of this blurb. Jackson is caught in flux. He’s not projected to make the Cubs’ rotation, but is making $13 million this year and next — which is a lot for a long man out of the pen. Best guess is the Cubs hope Jackson (5.58 ERA in two seasons with Chicago) is decent in Spring Training and find a way to trade him. Jackson’s pitched for eight different teams and the change of scenery occasionally does him well, as seen in his brief stints with Detroit, St. Louis and the other side of Chicago with the Sox. (Last year: Edwin Jackson)
Cincinnati Reds, Zack Cozart: Need another reminder it’s good to play professional baseball? Cozart posted a .221/.268/.300 line in over 500 at bats musteing a 61 OPS+ in 2014 and still managed to win a $2.4 million salary in arbitration for 2015, a solid raise from the $600,000 he made last year. (Last year: Zack Cozart)
Milwaukee Brewers, Ryan Braun: Although it’s hard to do, set aside all of Braun’s behavior around his urine sample following the 2011 season. Whatever Braun may or may not have taken, the first six seasons or his career projected him to Cooperstown, statistically speaking. The last two years, due to injuries and suspensions, Braun’s been limited to 196 games after playing 150+ for five straight years. If Braun isn’t 100 percent, the Brewers are going to regret owing him $105 million through 2021, again separating whatever untoward off-field stuff he’s been linked to over the past couple seasons. Milwaukee cast its lot with Braun, for better or worse. (Last year: Rickie Weeks)
St. Louis Cardinals, Randy Choate: Call this a cheat, since the Cardinals payroll is reasonable without any true drags on the bottom line, so the dishonor falls to Choate, a 39-year-old left specialist who makes $3 million to be slightly below average while pitching less than 40 innings a season. (Last year: Pete Kozma)
Pittsburgh Pirates, A.J. Burnett: The Pirates are another team without any horrible contracts on the books, so it’s hard to fault the team handing Burnett $8.5 million for one season before he rides off on an ATV into the sunset. Burnett allowed the most runs in the NL last year with the Phillies, but owns a lifetime 3.41 ERA with the Pirates. We’re picking 30 players here, so unfortunately you’re the guy here, A.J. Nothing personal. (Last year: Chris Stewart)
Arizona Diamondbacks, Trevor Cahill: The Diamondbacks own some really bad contracts or more specifically are paying veterans a decent amount to be mediocre (Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Hill, Cody Ross), but Cahill’s wins out thanks to his woeful 2014 where he finished with a 5.61 ERA over 111 innings, with 55 walks for good measure. Cahill is a free agent after this season and probably needs a solid Spring Training to even start the season with Arizona despite his $12 million contract. The D’backs hold a club option for 2016 so he’s a definite “DFA” candidate sooner rather than later. (Last year: J.J. Putz)
Colorado Rockies, Troy Tulowitzki: Major League Baseball is a grind. 162 games over six months with a handful of off days sprinkled in. Durability is often a valued trait, especially in our post-PED/greenie landscape. Tulowitzki is, indeed, a great player … when he’s healthy. A .299/.373/.517 lifetime slash line is absurd for a shortstop. Problem is, Tulowitzki never plays anywhere close to 162 games per year. Two of the last three seasons he’s logged under 100 games.
The last-place Rockies owe him $118 million through 2020. Given his injury red flags (117 games played average over eight full seasons), few teams are going to leap to give Colorado what Tulo is worth in a trade. So for the time being Colorado is stuck, looking up at the Dodgers, Giants and Padres in the NL West while paying Tulowitzki a large amount of money, crossing its fingers he can stay healthy. If I was running a team, I’d wait for Colorado to get desperate and make a lowball offer on Tulowitzki since $20 million for an All Star shortstop won’t seem like an outrageous figure as salaries continue to escalate. (Last year: Boone Logan)
Los Angeles Dodgers, Andre Ethier: It’s nice to have money, or at least be wealthy enough to pull a Krusty the Clown and light cigarettes using old issues of Action Comics. When your payroll is $260+ million you can afford to float a $18 million, fourth outfielder for the next three seasons like Ethier, who is far-removed from his 2009 season that garnered a sixth-place finish in the NL MVP vote. (Last year: Matt Kemp)
San Diego Padres, Cameron Maybin: As a Tigers fan, I thought Maybin was bound for stardom when he was called up in 2007 at 20 years old. His first big league homer came at Yankee Stadium off Roger Clemens, no less. Maybin’s stock was high enough that he was a big part of the Miguel Cabrera trade. Since then it hasn’t quite panned out for Maybin, who’s owed $7 million his year and $8 million in 2016. Over the winter the Padres traded for Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers, meaning Maybin doesn’t have a place in the lineup for his .235 bat this year. (Last year: Carlos Quentin)
San Francisco Giants, Tim Lincecum: The Giants have won three World Series with Lincecum in the mix, so the team’s fans and brass probably won’t balk at paying the Freak $18 million for the 2015 season. That said, the former Cy Young winner’s pitched to a sub-100 ERA+ (aka below the league average) for three straight seasons by a significant margin (68, 79, 74). (Last year: Mike Morse)